23 November 2016
The unique protection afforded to Geographical Indications (GIs) such as Welsh Lamb and Single Gloucester Cheese is currently provided under EU Regulation and takes effect in the UK without any national implementation. Agricultural products and foodstuffs from particular regions can be afforded the status of Protected Geographical Indications (PGIs) which are unitary rights and like EU trade marks will not in principle extend the UK post-Brexit.
PGIs belong to a collective group of producers who are all entitled to apply the Geographical Indication to their products. The aim is to prevent producers whose products do not originate from a particular area from applying the PGI and as such provide those with the right to use it with a competitive advantage. There is an expectation for instance, that Scotch Whisky will be produced in Scotland and will be of a particular quality. Protection of Scotch Whisky as a PGI and the ability to therefore regulate its use has ensured that this is the case.
Producers have been concerned that a potential loss of rights in the UK as a result of Brexit could see an influx of damaging imports. However, whilst at this stage nothing is certain, negotiations towards a post-Brexit position will focus on preserving existing rights and putting in place transitional provisions to recognise existing PGIs in the UK or to allow their conversion into national rights are anticipated.
As PGIs are currently available to countries outside the EU, it is likely that UK producers will retain the right to hold EU-wide PGIs even after the UK’s exit. In terms of national protection however, the UK’s obligations under the TRIPS Agreement (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property) will require it to legislate for an equivalent PGI system, which will be crucial for UK producers and will provide the framework for recognition of rights in future trade arrangements.
The EU has been extremely supportive of geographical indications, which has seen them feature heavily in reciprocal trade deals. It seems likely therefore that the mutual recognition of EU and (future) UK rights will be a requirement for trade negotiations with the UK in the run up to and after Brexit. The UK therefore needs a framework in place for recognition of these rights and now is the time for producers and their representative associations to lobby the Government and make their views known.